Monday, May 27, 2013

Sacred Space

I am a lifelong sufferer from Hindsight-Is-20/20 syndrome. There are so many moments that I dearly wish I could’ve known then what I know now and get a do-over for the sight before it was to the hind. In 1991, I had the pleasure of crossing paths with a certain group of elderly gentlemen and their wives who definitely fall into that category.


 I was waiting tables at a delightful little place called Sirloin Stockade. (Or as I preferred to think of it, Cow Prison.) One of the unique features of the place was a large Banquet Room that magically trapped whatever sounds occurred inside, bounced them off the wall of windows, and amplified them to epic proportions.
 It was sometime in the first half of the year when I had the pleasure of waiting on my first BIG group in that room, all by my lonesome.
 All of us servers were hiding in the waitress station, as usual, when close to 50 people made their entrance. They were all Senior Citizens and they were all loud!

USS Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor circa 1937
 Our Manager made the rounds, begging for volunteers to wait on the party. We were all young, stupid, and basically figured we’d end up running our behinds off for something underwhelming in the tip category, meaning everyone politely declined his offer.
 Always the rebel, I shrugged my shoulders and announced, “Screw it, I’ll work the room.”
 The Manager looked slightly panic stricken. “By yourself?”
 “Hell yeah.” Honestly, I was trying to psych myself up for this small feat of impossibility, determined to permanently nail my Super Server status. “Dude, what’s the worst that can happen? They get pissed because I’m slow and stiff me?”
 The poor guy looked like he couldn’t decide whether to be worried or relieved. “I’ll help run food,” was his contribution to my impending doom.
I took a deep breath, sucked in my gut, and entered The Room. The sound inside was DEAFENING! I was kinda taken aback by the concept of a group of rowdy Seniors. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone or Cocoon.
“Hi, my name’s Chris. How are you guys doin’?” I walked around the room, smiling, taking drink orders, and leaving napkins in front of everyone. That would be when the first incident occurred.
 I was bent over, putting a bev-nap on the table, when someone PINCHED me. (And by “me,” I really mean my ass.) I couldn’t have jerked up any faster if I’d been shot! I spun around, intending to cut loose on the owner of the offending hand, but the words dried up on my lips as I came face to face with a smiling, elderly gentleman. Who was giggling. Like a school girl.
 “Did YOU do that!?!” I attempted to give him the “Mother’s Stink-Eye” I’d been trying to perfect for use on my son. I don’t think it worked, seeing as how he grinned a little wider and added, “Nice hinney, Miss.”
 Did he seriously just say that? HO-LY CRAP!
 As I stood there with my jaw hanging open, trying to figure out how to process this odd situation, my other cheek was similarly violated. I jerked around again, only to be met with another old fart smiling at me, his wife rolling her eyes in exasperation.
 “Hey now!” was all I could think to snap. I was trying to look stern, but I think the fact that I was also working hard on not giggling, may have ruined the effect.
 I recovered whatever “cool” I had and went back to getting drink orders. Can I just say, the entire time I was waiting on these guys, I could not walk through the room without getting pinched at least twice.
 The most “fun” was when one of them was slick enough to discover I was wearing stockings and a garter. (Yes, my hatred of pantyhose is legendary. In my younger days, if I was required to wear them by something as silly as State Health Codes, I’d always opt for garter and stockings instead. Besides, it kinda made me feel all sexy-like.) After my secret was out, the score went up to at least two pinches and one garter-snap with every trip. And those snaps? Hurt like HELL!
 To be honest, I was sort of in awe of these guys. They were loud. They were raucous. They told some lewd-ish jokes and laughed like teenagers. Their wives were sweet, tolerant, and even needlessly apologetic for their husbands, and the whole group was amazingly cool about my slow progress around the room.
 After they’d eaten and drank their fill and the tables had been cleared, the group passed around someone’s hat to take up a collection for a tip. (To this day, it’s still the only time I’ve ever seen someone literally pass the hat.)
 This was the point at which the laughter began to quiet down and the tone became more subdued and serious. One of the gentlemen politely asked if I could give them some privacy and to not come back in until one of them had opened the door.
 I don’t remember how long they sat together in that room, I only know that, when the doors opened and the group emerged, it was a different set of people that walked out. Their conversations were lower, their smiles were slower and had a hint of sadness to them. I saw more than one set of eyes red from crying, and it wasn’t only eyes belonging to the women.
 I waved and thanked them for coming, receiving tiny head nods and half-hearted waves in return. I couldn’t help wonder what the hell’d happened to the wild butt-pinchers I’d cut-up with all evening?
 “Chris?” I looked up to see an odd expression on my Manager’s face. He looked…reverent. Sad, but definitely reverent, like he was contemplating a great work of art or something sacred. “Do you know who those people are?”
 “Umm…some of the dirtiest and grabbiest old men I’ve ever met in my life? I swear, my ass is gonne be bruised for DAYS!”

USS Indianapolis's survivors on GuamAugust 1945
 He smiled down at me, kinda like a Dad trying to teach a child something important. “Those men were the remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis. Those men are walking history.”
 I took a minute to search for the right file in my history-impaired brain. And…came up empty. All I could say was, “Oh.”


 The kids were all in bed, the Hubby was at work, and I finally had control of the remote. As I flipped through the channels, a documentary something about the USS Indianapolis, caught my attention and brought back fuzzy memories of wrinkled grins and a sore backside.
 An hour later, as the credits rolled across the screen, I sat curled up on my couch, staring into space with cold chills running up and down my spine. And I cried.
 I cried for a tragedy that my mind couldn’t even begin to comprehend. I cried for the ultimate sacrifice that far too many made. I cried for everything those pinch-happy men had endured, just to make it back to their homes and loved ones.
 And I cried because, without even knowing it, a young woman was once given a rare gift and allowed to spend a few hours in the presence of true heroes.
 I finally understood my Manager’s expression from all those years ago. Those men and women had deserved every bit of reverence he'd shown them, and so much more.
 What I'd once only seen as a group of rambunctious Senior Citizens, I now knew weren't just walking history, they were walking Sacred Space.
 With mad pinching skills.


USS Indianapolis MemorialIndianapolis, Indiana 
 In 2012, there were 45 remaining Survivors. Of those 45, 20 attended the annual reunion.
 In August of 1995, the USS Indianapolis National Memorial was dedicated. It’s located on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis, IN and in July of 2007, the USS Indianapolis Museum had its grand opening in the Indiana War Memorial Museum.
 Because of the crew of the USS Indianapolis and all the other men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, my family and I am able to enjoy our lives and our freedoms today. I can’t put into words the amount of gratitude I have for the sacrifices they made for their Country.

 To all the men and women who have laid down their lives, and to their families, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

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